By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- Tree replacements and less-than-ideal weather are being partly blamed for a prune crop that is expected to be 24 percent smaller than last year's, according to a government report.
Producers this year expect to harvest 105,000 tons of dried plums, a significant drop from the 138,000 tons produced in 2012, the California Department of Food and Agriculture notes in its crop forecast. Bearing acreage is estimated at 51,000, down from a peak of 86,000 acres in 2000.
Some plum trees were pulled after the 2012 harvest, reducing acreage by 7 percent for 2013, the CDFA reports. In addition, adverse conditions in some areas this spring may have hampered some trees' development, said Donn Zea, executive director of the California Dried Plum Board.
"We had a somewhat sporadic production depending on the region, which was primarily temperature and/or wind-driven," Zea said. "That's not anything atypical, but it did create a reduction from what we might consider an average crop."
This year's bloom was successful, lasting for more than two weeks with mild temperatures and little rain, the CDFA explains. Plums are on the trees now, but the question is what percent will make it to harvest, the agency observed.
California produces nearly all of the nation's prunes and 70 percent of the world's supply, but growers have contended with a global glut of prunes in recent years because of overproduction in South America. By contrast, nut growers have been planting more trees to meet a global spike in demand, and some of those new acres used to be in prunes.
The environment for marketing prunes should improve this year, as the Southern Hemisphere's crops were disappointing.
"There's definitely a global supply issue that's going to have an impact on prices," Zea said. "We are prepared to have a great year marketing-wise and do our best to develop customers around the world."
Growers expect to produce about 2.06 dried tons per acre, down from 2.51 last year. The forecast is based on a survey the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service did with growers in May. Responses were received from 271 growers representing 60 percent of the total bearing acreage.
Prune acreage and production
Here are the total bearing acres and dried tons produced for dried plums in California since 2000, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
2000: 86,000 acres, 219,000 tons
2001: 86,000 acres, 150,000 tons
2002: 74,000 acres, 172,000 tons
2003: 72,000 acres, 181,000 tons
2004: 70,000 acres, 49,000 tons
2005: 67,000 acres, 97,000 tons
2006: 65,000 acres, 198,000 tons
2007: 64,000 acres, 83,000 tons
2008: 64,000 acres, 129,000 tons
2009: 64,000 acres, 166,000 tons
2010: 61,000 acres, 130,000 tons
2011: 58,000 acres, 137,000 tons
2012: 55,000 acres, 138,000 tons
2013 (projected): 51,000 acres, 105,000 tons